Opera North brings us Mozart with mixed results.
The music is Mozart’s most enchanting, and under the sensitive, scrupulously musical direction of Clemens Schuldt, the exquisite woodwinds weaved their heart-wrenching spell. Indeed, the orchestra was the star of this show, since some of the singing did not quite have the lustre of previous castings of Tim Albery’s production. There’s no doubt, though, that the clarity and neatness of his concept makes for a very persuasive introduction to this complex work.
Some might say that the fact that the work is sung in English – the translation being a ‘house’ one which has been adapted over the years – is also helpful in bringing new audiences to the opera. Others, such as the present writer, cannot understand the reasoning behind this, given that the Leeds Grand Theatre has superb acoustics and exceptional surtitles, the latter visible from all parts of the house and presented with admirable clarity. It seems patronising to deny audiences the sheer joy of hearing the music sung in the original Italian, and makes the job of the singers (which is quite challenging enough in this opera) more difficult.
Heather Lowe was a striking presence as Dorabella, her very individual tone and secure technique making light of all the vocal challenges. Quirijn de Lang was a similarly confident performer, his Don Alfonso waspishly in keeping with the concept of his character as a schoolmasterly guardian. Henry Neill impressed as Guglielmo, his very light baritone ideal for the role, although at times his phrasing lacked emphasis.
“…the orchestra was the star of this show…”
The other three singers did not fare quite so well: although Alexandra Lowe displayed plenty of verve as Fiordiligi, she tended to err on the over-emphatic side – possibly first night nerves. Anthony Gregory has a very sweet, rather slight tenor voice; he found ‘Un aura amorosa’ quite challenging. Gillene Butterfield, a member of the Leeds company, did her best as Despina but the part is one she will need to grow into.
Albery’s production and Tobias Hoheisel’s set design is based on the 17th century perspective box so popular in Dutch art of that time, with a ‘camera eye’ through which we view the characters. It also embraces the notion of the tale as a ‘school for lovers’ – the subtitle of the opera – with its chalky lines on black surfaces. David Finn’s lighting design is crucial in bathing the scenes in a golden glow, reminiscent of the fading light of so many 17th century paintings.
It’s a straightforward reading, naturally lacking any sense of Southern sunshine, but strong on fabulous costumes and personal interactions. It was vociferously enjoyed by a near capacity audience.
• Details of upcoming performances can be found here.